When bassist Avishai Cohen and his trio wrapped up their concert after midnight on Sunday, the 2016 edition of the Ystad Sweden Jazz Festival became history. For this listener, the festival’s five days of music included opportunities to hear several artists in person for the first time. One of them was Marlene VerPlanck, a veteran singer whose repertoire overflows with material from the A-list of songwriters and lyricists—among them Irving Berlin, Johnny Mercer, Victor Young, Sammy Cahn, Arthur Schwartz, Peggy Lee, and Jimmy Van Heusen.
She was superb from her opener, Berlin’s “The Best Thing For You,” to “The Party Upstairs,” a new song whose lyric tells a subtle story of longing for love, with a clever use of the title as the punch line. The New York singer worked with a British trio headed by pianist John Pearce. Suited, necktied and dignified, they looked as if they might have just come from a meeting of a bank’s board of directors. They accompanied her beautifully. Not primarily a scat singer, Ms. VerPlanck nonetheless scatted her way into “Speak Low” paying canny attention to the song’s chords and generating irresistible swing. That swing characterized every up-tempo song she performed. She caressed two ballads, Billy Eckstine’s “I Want To Talk About You” and “The Lies Of Handsome Men.” The latter is in this 2013 album. Her encore was Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “It Might As Well Be Spring,” which had one of several tricky key changes in her concert. She executed them all seamlessly.
The Polish violinist Adam Baldych and his Norwegian rhythm section enraptured the audience in the recital hall of the Ystad Art Museum. At some points the band verged on free jazz, with a sense of time more implied than stated. Heads that nodded and feet that tapped testified that their rhythmic feeling ran strong through the hall. That compelling aspect of their music was occasionally in contrast with harmonies as old as Renaissance madigrals. Drummer Per Oddvar Johansen enhanced the atmosphere of freedom when he reacted to Baldych’s adventuring with mallets on tom-toms and sharp pops with sticks on snare drum rims. On a piece whose title was not announced, as Baldych’s pizzicato interaction with Helge Llien’s piano was underway, a cell phone with remarkably similar sound qualities gave its call. Running in a crouch, head down, the phone’s owner removed its surprising but not entirely objectionable contribution. The Baldych quartet listened to one another intently and brought an adventurous spirit to the festival.
Further impressions of the festival will be coming—later today if possible; or if not, when the staff returns to Rifftides world headquarters. Please check in from time to time.